The Law Society has condemned as ‘unthinkable’ a proposal floated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that a single, centralised assessment system should be used to determine whether all aspiring solicitors have the skills and experience to qualify.

Adopting this approach as part of the regulator’s overhaul of education and training would have a ‘hugely detrimental’ effect on the profession’s reputation, it argues.

The comments appear in Chancery Lane’s response to an SRA consultation launched last October on a new ‘competence statement’ for solicitors. The statement, accompanied by a ‘threshold standard’ and ‘statement of legal knowledge’, seeks to define the standards expected of solicitors entering the profession and later on.

The SRA’s work on reviewing the process for qualification as a solicitor and developing a framework for assessing the competence statement before qualification remains at an early stage.

Currently, individuals are required to demonstrate that they meet the standards for qualification through the Qualifying Law Degree (or Common Professional Examination) and the Legal Practice Course, and through the training they undertake through a recognised period of training.

However, in a bid to open up a flexible pathways to qualification, the regulator has identified three separate approaches (or combinations of approaches) for the assessment framework:

1. Continuing to prescribe specific pathways to qualification (such as the QLD/CPE + LPC + recognised period of training, subject to their being aligned to the competence statement) and authorising providers to deliver them.

2. Authorising any training pathway proposed by a training provider which enables a candidate to demonstrate they can perform the activities set out in the competence statement to the standard required in the threshold standard.

3. Developing centralised assessment of competence that all candidates are required to undertake prior to qualification. Candidates might be able to take the assessment regardless of the education and training pathway they have followed. The SRA stresses that this could also include specifying pre-requisites such as satisfactory completion of a period of practical experience or of an authorised pathway.

Commenting on the assessment options, the Society stresses that the standards achieved by the current system should not be ‘eroded’ by any reforms.

‘The experience of a high street trainee versus a City trainee is so different that it may be impossible to assess both through the same centralised assessment,’ it states.

Chancery Lane continues to believe there should be a mandatory period of training within the workplace before qualification and that practical skills described in the statement could best be assessed by employers.

It adds: ‘Option 3, a centralised assessment without any pre-requisites, is absolutely unthinkable. Someone should not be able to walk in off the street and take the exams. This would have a hugely detrimental effect on the reputation of the profession, as well as being unfair on those who have spent several years studying and working to prepare for qualification.’